History of
The Great Miniature Railroad and Village of
The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Photo of first Buhl Planetarium 
Miniature Railroad display in 1954
Photograph of the very first display of the Miniature Railroad and Village, at
The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, in the holiday season of 1954.

Internet Web Site Master Index for the History of
The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh

2004-2005 Marks 50th Season of display of The Miniature Railroad and Village

Special Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all photographs of, or related to, the Miniature Railroad and Village,
linked on this web page, are courtesy of The Carnegie Science Center.

The Great Miniature Railroad and Village has been one of the most popular holiday attractions, in Pittsburgh, since 1954 December 1, with a fairly small platform that included 200 feet of track [today, it boasts 1,200 feet of track and more than 100 animations]. Although it started out as an exhibit specifically for the Christmas holiday period [originally titled "The Great Christmastown Railroad] and was later extended to include the Thanksgiving and New Year's holidays, after not too long it was extended again--open four months of the year--November through February. An enlarged exhibit is now displayed, year-round, at The Carnegie Science Center, except for two month-long maintenance periods when it is closed to the public(although windows allow the public to view the exhibit's maintenance). Although it has varied over the years, the Miniature Railroad and Village exhibit displayed, and still displays, typical town and country scenes in the Allegheny Mountains of Western Pennsylvania, circa 1890-1920. Several miniature replicas, of historic structures from throughout Western Pennsylvania, can be seen in the display.

Most years, the display depicted either the Spring or Autumn season in the Allegheny Mountains. Occasionally, starting in the mid-1980s, the exhibit displayed all four seasons! The platform would simply be divided in four sections, with each section showing a different season of the year: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.

Outside of the main railroad gallery (originally called the South Gallery, but renamed Bowdish Hall or Bowdish Gallery in November of 1983), there were also small miniature displays of scenes from the same general time period as the main exhibit (1890-1920). A local artist also displayed his wood paintings on the Mezzanine Gallery. These smaller period exhibits and wood paintings would be viewed by the public as they waited in line to view the main Miniature Railroad exhibit.

The Mezzanine Gallery, the smallest of the building's exhibit galleries, also included eight Astronomy paintings by artist Daniel Owen Stephens. One painting, "The Old Astronomer," was also published in an Astronomy book (a copy was located in Buhl Planetarium's second floor Library). "Copernicus," a portrait of Astronomer Nicholas Copernicus, was donated to Buhl Planetarium by the Polish Arts League of Pittsburgh.

Buhl Planetarium maximized space, due to the building's small size. Hence, the Mezzanine Gallery also included the Duquesne Light Bicycle (which allowed patrons to create electricity by pedaling a stationary bicycle), the Bell Telephone exhibit (which included an oscilloscope to look at your voice, a tic-tac-toe machine which utilized mechanical relays, and in the early 1970s two Picture Phone booths which allowed people to talk to and see each other with a black-and-white television picture), access to the hallway for the classrooms, restrooms, and two water fountains (in the late 1980s, one of these water fountains was converted to a fountain accessible to the disabled).

Smaller train displays at The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, during the Christmas holiday period, preceded the introduction of the Miniature Railroad and Village in 1954. However, the history of the Miniature Railroad and Village actually predates 1954. Charles M. Bowdish started a smaller display, in 1920, in his home in Brookville, Pennsylvania. The small Jefferson County community is about 60 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

Unlike many small home displays, the trains were not the main attraction. Mr. Bowdish was an excellent craftsman and created extremely authentic-looking miniatures and animations. Soon, people from all over Jefferson County were flocking to the Bowdish home to see this display.

Upon hearing of this display, and its popularity, the management of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science offered to host the display in the Science museum's lower-level, South Gallery. Premiering at Buhl during the 1954 Christmas season, the exhibit was an immediate success. Visiting the Miniature Railroad and Village very quickly became a holiday tradition for many families in Western Pennsylvania.

The exhibit also became a financial success for The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science. As the small Science museum started encountering greater competition, in the post-World War II years, for consumers' discretionary expenditures, the predictable income, from people visiting the Miniature Railroad and Village, became a very important part of Buhl's annual budget. It soon came to the point where the revenue received from the four months of annual display of the Miniature Railroad and Village (November, December, January, and February) was so significant that this revenue paid for much of the operation of Buhl Planetarium over the rest of the year!

During one year, in the mid-1980s, the Miniature Railroad and Village was also opened during the Summer months, to try to increase attendance by tourists and vacationers. This met with limited success, as most people were familiar with the traditional holiday display of the Miniature Railroad and Village, but were not aware of the additional Summer schedule. This experiment was not repeated; the Miniature Railroad and Village resumed the schedule of being on display only four months out of the year.

In the heaviest visitation periods, during the Thanksgiving Weekend and the week between Christmas and New Year's Days(when children were on vacation from school and out-of-towners visited friends and family in the Pittsburgh area), it was not unusual for people to wait in line, inside the building after paying the admission fee, more than an hour to see the exhibit; on rare occasions the line, inside the building for the exhibit, exceeded two hours! To Buhl staff members, the months of November through February became known as "Railroad Season"!

When the Miniature Railroad and Village first opened in 1954, lines of people wanting to see the exhibit also formed outside of the building; these lines were primarily during the heaviest visitation days of Thanksgiving Weekend and Christmas Week. Although these outside lines never completely disappeared, they became much less significant in the later years of the exhibit's display at Buhl Planetarium. On the very busiest days, a staff person [called a "barker" because he would "bark-out" information to the public] would be assigned to be outside, at the building entrance, announcing the time length (i.e. one hour, hour and a-half, two hours) of the inside line for viewing the Miniature Railroad exhibit, and how long the building would be open to the public that day. Once people heard the length of the inside line, they would often leave and plan to return later in the day or on another day.

One year, a "ticket system" was tried, where each visitor would receive a ticket for a specific time to visit the Miniature Railroad and Village. This system met with limited success, as a large crowd scheduled for one time period (usually a half-hour time period) had difficulty moving around the large platform. The normal queue system, for visiting the exhibit, resumed the following year.

In November of 1983, the Miniature Railroad and Village's long-time home, in Buhl's South Gallery, received a name change. At a special ceremony, the exhibit gallery was renamed the "Bowdish Gallery" in honor of Charles Bowdish. This change had been suggested at a 1983 February 28 Buhl staff meeting [in the Wherrett Memorial Classroom (originally called the Club Room, this room had been renovated in the 1960s with a grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation, Wherrett Memorial Fund, to hold a new sex-education program called "Wonder of Wonders."), adjacent to the-then South Gallery], by Glenn A. Walsh. Mr. Walsh felt that Mr. Bowdish, who was now of an advanced age, should receive this honor prior to his death; Mr. Walsh felt that too many honors are awarded, posthumously, when the honor cannot be appreciated by the recipient. Charles Bowdish, whose health had begun to fail, did attend the dedication of the Bowdish Gallery in a wheelchair; this was the last time Mr. Bowdish visited his creation. Charles Bowdish died in 1988.

1990-1991 was the last Railroad Season at the Buhl Science Center(this updated name for The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science had taken effect in February of 1982, when Buhl became independent of the Buhl Foundation). After a one year hiatus, the Miniature Railroad and Village reopened on a larger platform, in a new gallery on the second floor of The Carnegie Science Center, located one mile southwest of the Buhl Planetarium building on the North Shore of the Ohio River(across Allegheny Avenue from Heinz Field, the Pittsburgh Steelers' football stadium). A special exhibit occupied the entire second floor of The Carnegie Science Center for several months after the new Science Center's opening on 1991 October 5; a year later, part of this second floor became a new gallery for the Miniature Railroad and Village. Click here to see a few scenes from the new Miniature Railroad and Village at The Carnegie Science Center. Click here to move to the Internet web site of the new Miniature Railroad and Village at The Carnegie Science Center.

Miniature Railroad Information Handouts

Each year the Miniature Railroad and Village was exhibited at Buhl Planetarium, an information handout sheet was distributed to the visitors to the exhibit. The only exception to this came in 1982 and 1983, when a 14-page, full-color booklet, completely describing the exhibit, was sold to visitors. The following are a few samples of these information sheets:

1975-1976 Railroad Season *** 1976-1977 Railroad Season

Special Americana Miniature Display, During the Nation's Bicentennial Celebration
(1975-1976)

1982 Miniature Railroad and Village Book

Copyright 1982, Buhl Science Center
(updated name for The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science)

In 1982, the Buhl Science Center produced a high-quality, fourteen-page book about the Miniature Railroad and Village. This full-color book presented many photographs of scenes from the Railroad platform, as well as explanations regarding how the exhibit was assembled. This book was sold for one dollar (except for a short time, when it was sold for fifty cents, as an experiment) to Buhl patrons, as they entered the exhibit, and in the Discovery Gift Shop.

Cover

Dedication

Platform
Layout

Exhibit
Statistics

Rear
Cover


Pages
1-2

Page
3

Page
4

Page
5

Page
6

Page
7

Page
8

Pages
9-10

Page
11

Page
12

Page
13

Page
14

History Photograph Album of
The Great Miniature Railroad and Village

Pre-Bowdish Railroad and Village Displays at Buhl

Image 1 shows one of the Christmas railroad displays, exhibited at the Buhl Planetarium of Popular Science, prior to the 1954 premier of Charles Bowdish's Miniature Railroad and Village. This exhibit was titled, "Railroads of Today." It was exhibited in Buhl's lower level, South Gallery(which would later become the home of the Miniature Railroad and Village) during the Christmas season of 1947.

Image 2 shows a second pre-Bowdish railroad display. This smaller display was exhibited in the "Hall of the Universe"(later known as the East Gallery) on Buhl's first floor during the 1950 Christmas season.

Miniature Railroad and Village Display in the Home of Charles M. Bowdish

Photographs of Charles M. Bowdish:
Image 3 shows a young Charles M. Bowdish in 1917, who served in the U.S. Army during World War I. Mr. Bowdish began work on his miniatures after returning home from the War; suffering from the effects of poison gas, he was partially disabled. The first public display of his miniature railroad and village came in December of 1920, when Mr. Bowdish assembled the display to entertain guests at a Christmas wedding. A friend of the family, Alfred Truman, saw the display and invited a few friends over to see it. This started the Brookville tradition, which moved to Pittsburgh's Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science in 1954.
Image 4 shows the creator of the Miniature Railroad and Village, Charles M. Bowdish, working on the Railroad platform, at The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science in 1956.
Image 5 is a photograph of Charles M. Bowdish in the 1960s.

Image 6 and Image 7 show Charles Bowdish's railroad and village display in his home, in Brookville, Pennsylvania, probably in the 1930s. Image 8 shows the Brookville exhibit, in December of 1948. Image 9 shows the control console for the 1948 display. Bowdish's Buhl exhibit began in 1954.

Image 10 and Image 11 are photographs of Charles Bowdish's home, with people forming a line to visit Mr. Bowdish's railroad and village display, in December of 1948.

Image 12 shows school children, in front of their school bus, who visited the railroad and village display in Mr. Bowdish's home, on a field trip.

Image 13 is a view of the Brookville, Pennsylvania neighborhood where Charles Bowdish lived; the photograph was taken from the Bowdish home.

Image 14 shows scenes of the railroad and village display in Charles M. Bowdish's Brookville, Pennsylvania home; this was published in a local Brookville newspaper, the American, probably in the 1960s. The newspaper indicates that these scenes are from 1947; however, the Letter to the Editor from Charles Bowdish, in Image 15, states that the photographs were taken in December of 1948.

Image 16 and Image 17 present a news article from the Jefferson Democrat of Brookville, Pennsylvania on November 30, 1989, reporting on the latest display, at the Buhl Science Center, of the Miniature Railroad and Village, originally created by the late Charles M. Bowdish, a Brookville native.

Miniature Railroad and Village Through the Years -

First Season - 1954 Image 18, Image 19, and Image 20 show the Miniature Railroad and Village in its first year of display at The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science.

1956-1957 Season

Image 21 and Image 22 (enlargement of the section of Image 22 showing the Buhl entrance) show people waiting outside of the building, for entry to see the Miniature Railroad and Village exhibit, then called "The Great Christmastown Railroad," in December of 1956. This queue was for people wishing to enter the building and pay the admission charge. A separate queue, inside the building, was for actual entry into the Miniature Railroad and Village exhibit.

Notice the two revolving doors at the entrance to the Buhl building. These were replaced with large glass doors, in the early 1980s, to ease accessibilty for the disabled. By 1982, an outdoor handicapped ramp, leading from the side street(which separated Buhl from the Old Post Office Museum) known as Allegheny Square West to Buhl's front doors; an indoor handicapped ramp leading from the Great Hall to the "Theater of the Stars"(Planetarium Theater) and also usable for access to the "Hall of the Universe"(East Gallery); a chair-lift elevator between the Mezzanine and the Octogon Gallery(which would soon include a new "Computer Learning Lab"); and a freight elevator renovated to carry passengers with a new stop in the first floor's Great Hall[this elevator already had stops at the first floor's "Hall of the Universe" and near the Lower Level's South Gallery(home of the Miniature Railroad and Village) and Mezzanine Gallery] were constructed using Federal funds administered by the City of Pittsburgh. So, as of 1982(until the building closed completely in February of 1994), the Buhl building was fully accessible to the disabled, with the only exceptions being the 250-seat Lecture Hall(also known as the "Little Science Theater"), and the second and third floors(there had never been an elevator constructed above the "Hall of the Universe" level of the first floor). The second floor was used for staff offices and also included a 400-volume Science Library/Board Room; this floor included the controls and motor for Buhl's grand clock at the Buhl entrance, and, also provided staff access behind the Planetarium dome. The small third floor was completely dedicated to Buhl's Astronomical Observatory(originally known as "The People's Observatory" with a fairly unique, ten-inch "Siderostat-type," refractor telescope, as well as several smaller portable telescopes used on the Observatory's outside east and west wings); for a short time in the early 1980s, a small weather station was also located on the third floor.

Image 23 shows the beginning of the queue, inside the Buhl building's entrance(in the Great Hall on the first floor), for "The Great Christmastown Railroad." On busy visitation days, particularly during the Thanksgiving Weekend (the staff members referred to the day after Thanksgiving Day as "Black Friday," since this was often the first or second busiest day of the year at Buhl Planetarium) and the week between Christmas and New Year's Days, it was not unusual for a substantial part of the queue, for the Miniature Railroad and Village, to extend to the first floor, even though the exhibit was on the Lower Level. Due to the heavy visitation during the holidays, Buhl Planetarium remained open with extended hours (usually 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.) on both Thanksgiving Day and New Year's Day; Christmas Day was the only day in the year that Buhl Planetarium was closed (although, when Buhl opened in 1939, New Year's Day was the only day the building was closed to the public.). In this photograph, the original Gift Shop counter, along the north wall of the Great Hall, can be seen on the left. Buhl's one million-volt, Oudin-type Tesla Coil can be seen in the background. The man in a suit and tie, with glasses, is long-time Buhl Floor Supervisor John Miller.

Image 24, Image 25, and Image 26 show the queue, in Buhl's lower level, Mezzanine Gallery, prior to the entrance of "The Great Christmastown Railroad."

Image 27 shows the queue entering the exhibit in the South Gallery.

Image 28 shows two young visitors viewing the exhibit, near double doors to the "Club Room;" amateur Science clubs, such as the Amateur Astronomers' Association of Pittsburgh, met regularly in this room. In the late 1960s, funding from the Wherrett Memorial Fund of the Pittsburgh Foundation transformed this room into a modern classroom for "Wonder of Wonders"; this room was renamed the "Wherrett Memorial Classroom."

Image 29 shows the creator of the Miniature Railroad and Village, Charles M. Bowdish, working on the Railroad platform.

Image 30 shows Buhl's Chief Technician, Glenn Cochenour, working on the Railroad platform.

Image 31 shows Glenn Cochenour and Carl F. Wapiennik (on the right) working on the Railroad platform. Carl Wapiennik started as Buhl's Staff Physicist in the 1950s. In the 1960s he became Buhl's Executive Director (his title changed to Vice President, Operations, with the formation of the Buhl Science Center on February 3, 1982); he retired from this position in 1983. However, he continued supervising the construction of the Miniature Railroad and Village until the end of the decade.

1961-1962 Season

Image 32 shows three young visitors admiring a farm scene on the platform.

1966-1967 Season

Image 33 includes a photograph and news article, published in The Pittsburgh Press on November 16, 1966, regarding the soon-to-be-opened Miniature Railroad and Village. The photograph shows Buhl staff member Joan Guenther about to start the exhibit's Ferris Wheel; this is a miniature replica, produced by exhibit creator Charles M. Bowdish, of an actual Ferris Wheel constructed by Mr. Bowdish's father in 1894. The elder Bowdish's Ferris Wheel, considered the second large Ferris Wheel ever constructed, was built only one year after George Ferris built the first Ferris Wheel for the 1893 Columbian Exposition(this was to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus; it is reported that government bureaucracy prevented the expo from occuring in the actual 400th anniversary year!) in Chicago. George Ferris' home was located in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, only three blocks from the present location of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science.

Image 34 shows part of the Railroad platform.

Image 35 shows the exhibit during a busy visitation period.

1974 Season

Image 36 includes two photographs, published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, showing the care given to miniatures and animations after the annual showing of the Miniature Railroad and Village was completed. These photographs show Glenn Cochenour beginning the long process of dismantling the 76-by-19-foot Railroad platform, by carefully storing all miniatures and animations(including 150 buildings, 1,000 figures, and approximately 10,000 small, custom-crafted trees and shrubs) on specific shelves of the Artifacts Room. The photograph on the left shows the miniatures of the display's fire company.

Until the 1980s, the entire Railroad platform was dismantled in March, after the exhibit closed, to allow the South Gallery to be used for display of the annual Pittsburgh Regional School Science and Engineering Fair; after the Science Fair was completed, construction of the next season's Railroad platform usually commenced(unless there was another short-term, temporary exhibit that was displayed in the South Gallery; however, by mid-Summer, Railroad exhibit construction was well underway). As many as 700 Science Fair exhibits were set-up throughout the Buhl building, during much of the Spring season. By the 1980s, Buhl management decided that dismantling the Railroad, and moving alot of other permanent exhibits, to accomodate the Science Fair was taking too much staff time and effort. From then on, the Science Fair was exhibited for a week(usually during Spring Break) in the gymnasium of the Community College of Allegheny County, Allegheny Campus, only six blocks from the Buhl building; many of the winning projects would be displayed at Buhl the following month.

25th Anniversary of the Miniature Railroad and Village at Buhl, in 1979

The following news article is from the July, 1979 issue of Model Railroader magazine, regarding the 25th anniversary of display, of the Miniature Railroad and Village at The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science.

Page 100

Page 101

Page 102

Page 103


In the Buhl Science Center During the 1980s

Image 37 and Image 38 show visitors viewing the Miniature Railroad and Village. In the 1980s, one woman visiting the Miniature Railroad and Village was quite shocked by its size; after waiting in line, when arriving at the top of the steps before descending into the Bowdish Gallery, she was heard by the author to exclaim, "Oh my gosh. This thing is bigger than my house!"

Image 39 and Image 40 present a news article from the Jefferson Democrat of Brookville, Pennsylvania on November 30, 1989, reporting on the latest display of the Miniature Railroad and Village at the Buhl Science Center, originally created by the late Charles M. Bowdish, a Brookville native.

Image 41: Across railroad tracks from edge of platform: house with lighted second-floor (5) (not shown is popular animation of woman holding baby and walking back-and-forth on second floor).

Image 42: Across railroad tracks from edge of platform: Diner Car (5).

Image 43: Rodgers Field (5), City of Pittsburgh's first municipal airport, named in honor of Galbraith Perry Rodgers who was the first person to cross the United States by airplane in 1911. This airport was not located within the regular boundaries of the City of Pittsburgh, but was located near the present-day sites of the Fox Chapel Golf Club and the Fox Chapel School District property.

Click here to see a few scenes from the new Miniature Railroad and Village at The Carnegie Science Center.

Click here to move to the Internet web site of the new Miniature Railroad and Village at The Carnegie Science Center.

Brehun, Deborah A. "Holiday traditions in Ligonier keep childhood memories on track."
Tribune-Review, Greensburg PA 2013 Dec. 25.
“Every Christmas, when he was a child, he would go to see the train display at Buhl Planetarium in Pittsburgh,” said Carol Sheats.
“We took our son to see the display at Christmas, too.”

Barcousky, Len. "Miniature village and railroad are a natural fit in Harmony."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2008 Dec. 4.
Another Pittsburgh-area railroad and village display.
"If you go to the railroad displays ..."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2008 Dec. 4.

"News to Use" "Bowdish Railroad set for display."
Leader Times, Kittanning PA 2008 Nov. 19.

Annual display of the Bowdish Model Railroad at the Jefferson County History Center in Brookville, Pennsylvania. Smaller version of model railroad Brookville-native Charles M. Bowdish once displayed at Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science from 1954 through 1991.

Sostek, Anya. Harry Turner / He took his model trains on the road
Dec. 20, 1942 - Feb. 21, 2006.
Obituary.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2006 Feb. 25.
Inspired by Buhl Planetarium's Miniature Railroad and Village.

TrainNet International Railways Links

Internet Web Site Master Index for the History of
The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh


Other Internet Web Sites of Interest

History of Andrew Carnegie and Carnegie Libraries

History of Astronomer, Educator, and Optician John A. Brashear, Friend of Andrew Carnegie

History of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, Pittsburgh - America's Fifth Major Planetarium !

History of The Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum, Chicago - America's First Major Planetarium !

History of The Duquesne Incline, Pittsburgh - Historic Cable Car Railway Serving Commuters and Tourists since 1877 !

Other History Links


Special Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all photographs of, or related to, the Miniature Railroad and Village,
linked on this web page, are courtesy of The Carnegie Science Center.

Disclaimer Statement: This Internet Web Site is not affiliated with the Andrew Carnegie Free Library,
Ninth Pennsylvania Reserves Civil War Reenactment Group, Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium and Observatory,
The Carnegie Science Center, The Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh/Carnegie Institute, or The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

This Internet, World Wide Web Site administered by Glenn A. Walsh.
Unless otherwise indicated, all pages in this web site are (C) Copyright 2000-2003, Glenn A. Walsh, All Rights Reserved.
The author thanks The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the Three Rivers Free-Net for use of their digital scanner and
other computer equipment, and other assistance provided in the production of this web site.
Contact Web Site Administrator: MiniRR@planetarium.cc

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